The Morgan Wallen No-Show
By Mark Nagi
Loyal readers of my columns/articles know that this is not typically a space for entertainment reviews. Here, we talk sports. Lots of East Tennessee related sports, some national sports, but the main takeaway is that I’m writing about sports 99.9% of the time.
Well, here is the 0.1%.
A week ago, I took my oldest daughter on a college visit to Ole Miss. As part of the trip, we made plans to attend the Morgan Wallen concert, which was taking place at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. This was a birthday present for my kid, and a great example of my “experiences over possessions” philosophy of life that I will shout from the mountaintop for all to hear.
Morgan Wallen, of course, is a local guy. Went to Gibbs HS, sings about East Tennessee in more than a couple of his songs. Throw in Central HS grad Kelsey Ballerini and the Knoxville area has a 1-2 punch of current country music artists that takes a back seat to few outside of Nashville.
I’m not a huge fan of Wallen’s. At 50 years old I’m not exactly his target audience. But my daughter was fired up, so that made me happy. I listened to his music for a couple of weeks so that I wouldn’t be clueless during the show.
I bought two tickets on Vivid Seats, cringing all the while at the exorbitant fees we are stuck paying now. We jumped in the Camry, drove 6 hours to the hotel in New Albany, Mississippi, and then another 45 minutes to Oxford.
The mood was fun with tens of thousands making the trek, most from Oxford but more than a few like us from hundreds of miles away. I saw a decent amount of Orange too, with Wallen’s Knoxville roots on full display in the crowd.
We stood in line for about 30 minutes to buy an overpriced t-shirt, missing the opening act, a guy named Nate Smith. The second act was a guy named Ernest, and while watching I couldn’t stop thinking about whether he goes to Camp or Jail.
The third opening act was a guy named “Hardy.” I had no idea who he was or why he was screaming so much. But more people in the crowd did know him, singing along to whatever song he was singing.
Now, three opening acts is a lot. This wasn’t Bonnaroo. And Hardy seemed to be on the stage a long time, longer than I remember opening acts performing. After he ended, we hit the concessions and lengthy bathroom lines… and still no Morgan Wallen.
The temperatures were dropping, and many fans used the opportunity to stock up on alcohol during the wait.
Finally, some 3+ hours after the first notes of the night were struck, a random guy walked onto the stage and said that the show was canceled because Wallen had lost his voice.
There was stunned silence from the tens of thousands in attendance. The man said that people needed to go to the exits and depart safely. No one moved, thinking this was a joke or part of the show. My daughter gave me a look that I can only translate to mean, “What?”
So, we left, walked the half mile back to the car and drove 45 minutes back to the hotel.
For editing purposes, I won’t go into extensive detail about the expletives flying from the crowd but believe me it was not a pleasant reaction.
Wallen put out a statement, “After last night’s show I started losing my voice, so I spent the day resting up, taking to my doctor, and working through my vocal exercises trying to get better. I really thought I’d be able to take the stage and it kills me to deliver this so close to stage time, but my voice is shot and I’m unable to sing. All tickets will be refunded at point of purchase. I am so sorry. I promise you guys I tried everything I could.”
That apology did nothing to tone down the reactions from his fans. Rumors about Wallen’s condition posted immediately, that the real reason he didn’t perform was because he was inebriated. One security guard said that Wallen had to be transported to the hospital. There has been no confirmation of those allegations.
Wallen is no stranger to controversy. In 2020 he was arrested for public intoxication and disorderly conduct after he was kicked out of a Nashville bar. In 2021, Wallen was videotaped outside a home, also in Nashville, yelling profanities and making a racial slur. He apologized but was suspended by his record label and had his music pulled by radio stations and streaming services. But he worked on his image and is now one of country music’s most popular acts.
I don’t know the true story, and we probably never will, but most of this doesn’t pass the smell test. If in fact his voice was shot, why open the doors? Those 3+ hours weren’t going to make a difference. Instead, the merchandise tents were depleted, the concession stands packed, and fans continued to get their wallets gouged. We see this in Major League Baseball often, when teams open the doors so that they can sell souvenirs and hot dogs all while knowing the game will probably get rained out.
Fans are always the ones that pay the price, literally and figuratively.
I did get my full ticket costs refunded, but there was still the price of gas, hotel and parking. Plus, if the doors never opened, I certainly wouldn’t have plopped down $50 for a t-shirt for my daughter, nor paid $7 for a soda, etc. All in all, that trip ends up costing me hundreds more dollars and I’ll never receive restitution. And approximately 60,000 patrons have similar stories. One fan named Brandi Burcham has even filed a class action suit, accusing Wallen of breach of contract and negligence.
Morgan Wallen will turn 30 in a couple of weeks and might have a long career ahead of him, but treating fans in this manner is a pretty surefire way to have them find another singer to stream.